So what is the best BI Reporting Tool on the market today?
This is a difficult decision and one which is subject to personal preferences. I’ve worked with a number of BI tools over the years using products such as:
- Business Objects
- ProClarity (now Performance Point Server)
- SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services)
- Oracle Forms & Reports
- …a bit of Crystal
So which of these is the best BI reporting tool?
Panorama and ProClarity provide a ‘freshness’ to reporting. Users find their tools easy to use and the type of output these products generate should really make the larger BI vendors sit up and take notice. ProClarity introduced a number of new graphical representations of data which I haven’t seen in other products. I’m not sure why, but once you play around with these charts, you can’t help but be impressed. One of my favorites graphical displays is the heat map. An example of a heat map in action can be found here. This example shows the the NASDAQ-100 in one dimension. ProClarity allows you to add another dimension which will determine the size of boxes depending on a second variable. Nice.
I haven’t used Cognos products for a while, so my opinion may be outdated. However, I didn’t find it’s product suite as integrated as that of BusinessObjects. It does have it’s fan base however, and it’s customer base suggests it is no small player. Recently bought out by IBM, it is going to give BusinessObjects a real fight. I welcome this. You need companies to be competing with each other to push forward innovation.
I found that Oracle Forms/Reports and Crystal Reports good for static reporting – the kind of reports that are not likely to change any time soon. Crystal is an excellent product, especially if you want to embed reports into existing code or applications. It is fairly simple to pick up and I find it quite powerful. One of BusinessObjects’ better purchases I think. To be fair to Oracle, I haven’t used it’s BI product suite. Hyperion, which was bought by Oracle, was a highly regarded BI vendor, so I am sure Oracles BI suite is impressive. Note to self: I should really become familiar with Oracle BI.
And finally, SSRS. To be honest I’m not a massive fan of SSRS. It not really and end user type of product. However, its low entry price (and often no additional cost as most sites will be using SQL Server) make this a popular choice. However, I don’t think it offers the features of some other products in my list. Things are changing in the Microsoft camp however. Following it’s purchase of ProClarity, it has integrated it’s BI toolset into Performance Point Server. Microsoft has quite a strong BI case now. For sites using SQL Server as it’s database, it now has an attractive stack whereby for a low cost, users can product OLAP cubes, develop powerful reports, and integrate all of this into the well established Office suite of products. At the end of the day, many sites have been using Excel as their ‘reporting tool’. It is going to be difficult to wrestle users away from Excel, and with Microsoft building on that platform, it is making life difficult for the bigger BI players.
So what about BusinessObjects? It is now quite a mature product, and immensely powerful. I dare say that most users merely scratch the surface of what BusinessObjects is capable of. Its products are very well integrated, and it offers a full product stack from the warehouse ETL to dashboards. But that is exactly the point. I find BusinessObjects strong in Query and Analysis and ETL, but weak in Analytics and Dashboards. Yes, BusinessObjects has Xcelcius and Performance Manager, but I do believe that Panorama and Performance Point Server/ProClarity offer a better Analytic/Dashboard tool.
So what do prefer? Difficult to nail it down, but if I were setting up from scratch:
- BusinessObjects Data Integrator for ETL. (I know Informatica is the market leader, but Data Integrator really is a fantastic product and integrates well with the rest of the BusinessObjects stack).
- BusinessObjects XIR2 for Query and Analysis (XI 3.0 is not yet established enough)
- Panorama or Performance Point Server for Analytics and Dashboards.
It should be interesting over the next few months. XI 3.0 will become more established, PPS should begin to mature and integrate more functionality from it’s ProClarity purchase, and it will be interesting to see how much influence SAP and IBM have on their recent purchases.
I’m keen to hear your views. Feel free to share your views and comments – I’ll add them to the post. It is quite lonely in the blogosphere…
Addendum: SAS are also a strong player in this market space. However, it appears to be somewhat of a closed shop. I have no experience of SAS. Anyone care to add a comment comparing SAS to the other tools I have discussed?